Save the world with data

Globefloat
Photo by Daniela Hartmann

I was talking to someone recently who at first I thought was an angel investor interested in my work, but it turned out he was keen on funding charitable projects. It shows I need to improve my messaging – while I am technically running a non-profit, that's not by choice. I do love supporting that world, but I'm always looking for revenue opportunities where I'm adding value for users who can afford it, even for my open-source projects.

It did get me thinking about some of my favorite non-profit teams though. They're all primarily focused on using data to do good, even if they're not purely non-profit in structure. Here's the people I'd trust to put my money to good use, if I was a social investor.

Ushahidi/SwiftRiver

With uptake worldwide, Ushahidi has been doing valuable work spreading information around disasters and political unrest, everywhere from Egypt to New Zealand and Japan. The SwiftRiver part is the brainchild of Jon Gosier, and while I'm a bit biased as I'm contributing some time and code, it's a really powerful use of technologies that are usually only focused on ad-serving. There's so many practical ways this kind of filtering and routing of information can help in an emergency.

Global Virus Forecasting Initiative

With feet on the ground in 23 countries, the GVFI has roots in the traditional non-profit world, but a clear understanding of how modern data processing can help its mission. Lucky Gunesekara, Lalith Polepeddi and the rest of their team are building a cutting-edge information infrastructure to make sense of the masses of information gathered by the teams, matching it against social media and traditional news organizations. The results are then used to track and predict human viral outbreaks and save lives. 

Media Cloud

Ethan Zuckerman is a legend in the non-profit world as a driving force behind projects like Global Voices and Geekcorps, but with Media Cloud he's applying his skills to data analysis on an ambitious scale. As the Arab revolts show, one of the biggest problems around the world is the way people are denied a voice. By tracking and quantifying media coverage in unprecedented detail, the project hopes to draw a picture of the problem, as a first step to offering solutions. It's an important project in a lot of ways – just ask yourself when you first heard about the Tunisian uprising? It took three weeks for coverage to enter most of the Western media (though France was a bit ahead of the curve, thanks to their colonial history). Those sort of gaps in our collective vision mean we're missing out on vital information.

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